LAS VEGAS (Hollywood Reporter) - NBC Universal aims to
shake up the way it does business, particularly with its pilot
development and "upfront" presentations, president and CEO Jeff
Zucker said Tuesday.
In his keynote speech at the opening session of the
National Association of Television Program Executives' 2008
Conference and Exhibition (NATPE), Zucker said NBC will take
more projects straight to series, without pilots; green-light
five or six pilots a year; sign fewer development deals; and
likely forgo its glitzy May "upfront" presentation in favor of
meeting with advertisers one on one.
"We must acknowledge that a significant part of the
industry is under pressure and needs to change," Zucker told a
packed ballroom at the Mandalay Bay Resort. "We've needed to do
this for a few years, but there was no real sense of urgency."
He said factors including the state of the economy and the
writers' strike have speeded up the time frame in which NBC is
making these changes.
"Broadcasters can no longer spend hundreds of millions of
dollars every year on pilots that don't see the light of day or
on upfront presentations or on deals that don't pay off,"
Zucker said. "And we can't ignore international opportunities,
VOD (video-on-demand) or the Web."
He said pilots are "stand-alone mini-movies" that cost as
much as $10 million each to make and "are not even close to
what the series will look and feel like." To that end, NBC will
order fewer pilots and start ordering more projects straight to
series -- "those that our executives really believe in" --
similar to the model for reality shows.
He noted that NBC Universal's cable network USA ordered
five pilots during the past two years, four of which made it to
series and two of which became the top-rated new cable shows of
2006 ("Psych") and 2007 ("Burn Notice"). Yet none of the new
scripted series that have debuted on the broadcast networks so
far this season can be considered successful, and only two in
the previous season -- NBC's "Heroes" and ABC's "Brother &
Sisters" -- were hits, he said.
"It's not about making less programs; it's about making
less waste," Zucker said.
He added that NBC is not aiming to get out of the
scripted-program business, noting that too much "downstream
revenue" -- from syndication, video, etc. -- would be lost.
Zucker added that NBC is moving toward a year-round
programming schedule, where series green-lights and premieres
take place throughout the calendar year and not just based on a
Zucker admitted that the Peacock will be "on its own" doing
this at first but said its success would be followed by other
"This system has been around for 20, 30, 40 years and needs
to evolve," he said. "We're willing to make chances and learn
from our mistakes as we go."